Living in Tulsa 'Tine: Grieving, Healing, and Connecting on Socially Distant Tulsa Time. Episode 4: Create a Little Happiness

May 08, 2020 By Emilie Smith, LPC

I have noticed during this time of seclusion that there are days when I struggle to feel happy. I find myself in the doldrums, feeling bored, vaguely unhappy, and generally distressed. I’m not particularly fond of these feelings. And when I’m there it is easy to just hunker down and stay there, telling myself that this is just the way it is. At these times I feel trapped, dissatisfied with what is going one, uninterested and unmotivated to do anything, and I can even think negative thoughts about myself. I think that this is a pretty common experience.

I don’t want to clean house. I don’t want to watch TV. I don’t want to take a nap. I don’t want to listen to music. I don’t want to talk with my husband. I don’t want to …. Fill in the blank. I don’t like this place. I don’t like just sitting around, feeling sorry for myself. So, what can I do? Just give in to feeling miserable? A very wise woman, Marsha Linehan, once taught me something that I have never forgotten. It has been of immense help to me over the years, and now I’m going to share it with you. This is where I have to begin. First, I must acknowledge that pain, and painful experiences and feelings, are a guaranteed part of life. There is no such thing as a life without pain. DARN! I don’t really like that fact. But here is the second part, it is important that I accept that is what is true. Because I get to choose if I’m going to be miserable in my pain, by whether or not I accept my pain. So here is the magic equation:

Pain + Non-Acceptance of Pain = Suffering (or misery)

So, what do I mean by “acceptance”? I don’t want to accept this pain! It’s terrible! I don’t like it! I don’t want it! If I accept this pain then I’m saying I approve of it, aren’t I?

Well, there is the stumbling block that a lot of people run into when you talk about accepting their pain, no matter what their pain is caused by. And some painful things ARE hard to accept. When you have lost someone dear to you, in the beginning it can be very hard to accept. We don’t want to believe it. But that’s just part of the process. Here is the key to acceptance: Acceptance does NOT equal approval. Approval says you like it, you agree with it, it’s good. Acceptance merely says, “It is’” It acknowledges that things are as they are. It doesn’t mean that you don’t do anything to try and change things if you can. But you can’t begin to change anything until you acknowledge what it really is.

So sit back, look at the discomfort, the pain, and say to yourself, “Well, it is what it is.”

And if you can’t do anything to change your situation, now what? Ahhh, excellent question! Lots of times the situation is beyond our control. This quarantine is beyond our control. The existence of the Corona Virus is beyond our control. Having lost someone or something precious is beyond our control.

So this brings us to another very important point:

Happiness is an INSIDE job.

Even though you might think that you feel happy because of something that happened or something that someone did, that is really not the case. We often say, “It would make me really happy if ….” You can add in anything you want here, like if I had more money, if my husband brought me flowers, if my wife would just cook dinner, if I didn’t have to do all this work, if someone would help me, if I weighed less. Do you get the idea? Problem is, none of these things will really make you happy. There are plenty of people with lots of money, thoughtful husbands or wives, help with tasks, and beautiful bodies. They also have to wrestle with feelings of unhappiness.

So now what? Just as in practicing acceptance, what we tell ourselves about our situation determines what we feel. What we believe is key. So here are a few tips to help you create a little happiness:

  1. Practice acceptance of what is.
  2. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is just being in the moment that is here. Not in the moment you wish you were in, or you think that you should be in, not what is right, fair or good, but the one that you are in. Be aware of what is around you without judging it. Go for a walk and notice the feeling of the sun, the look of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the plants around you. Notice their color, texture, shape, etc. Just observe and be present with what is ever there. More on mindfulness in another blog.
  3. If you are relying on one set of circumstances or person to make you happy, it probably won’t happen. You need to broaden your scope of friends and activities. Also, know that engaging in new adventures creates brain chemicals that add to your happiness.
  4. Living in harmony with your values is a huge contributor to happiness. Likewise, not living in harmony with them will contribute to your unhappiness, Do you know what your values are? Here is a good website to help you evaluate them: This offers an exercise to go through 100 common values and compare them till you eliminate some and arrive at a distilled list of no more than 10. So, now that you know what is really important to you, keep track for a week of what you do and for how much time each day. Then go back and see if they are in harmony with your values. If most of what you are doing does NOT match you values, well, you will probably feel pretty down. So make some choices in the next week to value your values.
  5. When you set a doable goal, and move in the direction of achieving it, at a reasonable pace that you set, this can create happiness. This means that you will need to break down the steps to arrive at your goal into small, doable pieces. Then do something each day to move you in the direction of at least one of your goals. When you do, write them down in a journal or notebook to acknowledge your accomplishments. Then go back and read your list from time to time to remember what you have done. This is a secondary source of happiness!
  6. Learn how to use a Half Smile. This is when you look in the mirror to set your face into a pleasant position. A slight upturn of the lips, a relaxing of the face, and eyes, so that your eyes reflect the upturn of your mouth. This position, whenever you use it, will also release happy hormones, cause you to feel more open and willing, and create a sense of well being. Practice it in the mirror till you know how it feels. It really works!
  7. And last but not least, play. Do something you enjoy every day. In another blog I will talk about creativity and how it contributes to feelings of happiness and a sense of accomplishment and well being. But till then, have fun, laugh, read jokes, funny memes, or watch comedies on TV. Laughter actually releases happy hormones. It’s biology!

So now, go forth and create a little happiness for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.